If you know me or have at least read my About Me page, you know I LOVE national parks! I’ve been to 42 of the 63 official U.S. national parks so far, and it’s on my bucket list to visit all of them. I also love to visit the other 400+ units in the national park system such as historic sites, monuments, memorials, and recreation areas. I truly believe the national park system is one of the best things about our country, and it’s important to share our beautiful national parks with our students. In this post, I’m going to talk about reasons to bring the national parks into your classroom and several ways you can make it happen.
To support you along the way, I’ve also created a helpful (and free!) national parks resource guide. It includes suggested books, websites, videos, and other activities you can use to support national parks instruction in your classroom!
Reasons to Bring National Parks Activities into Your Classroom
Writer and historian Wallace Stegner once called the national parks “America’s best idea” and the U.S. National Park Service refers to national parks as “America’s largest classrooms.” I couldn’t agree more! Here are a few reasons to add national parks lessons and activities into your classroom:
Integration and Cross-Curricular Opportunities
Teachers are responsible for covering more standards than ever in our classrooms, and national parks offer unique cross-curricular opportunities that can save valuable time. One national parks unit or even just a single lesson can easily include language arts, science, and social studies standards!
One awesome activity I love to use in order to hit multiple standards is this Design a National Park Arrowhead Project. It requires students to learn about a national park and design an arrowhead logo for it using what they learned about the park and the national park service in general. It combines some art, science, language arts, and even social studies!
Every Kid Outdoors Program
Another excellent reason to include national parks activities in your classroom is because there are already structures in place to help you! Did you know every 4th grader in America can earn a free interagency national parks pass by simply completing a short activity online? You can read more about the details of the program in my national parks resource guide.
Teach Kids to be Good Stewards of the Environment
I think one of the best arguments for teaching students about national parks is to help them become good stewards of our planet. When you see and can appreciate the beautiful places Earth has to offer, it’s much easier to want to protect it now and for generations to come.
National Parks Classroom Activities
There are so many fun activities to incorporate when you’re learning about national parks, and here are just a few of my favorites:
National Parks Field Trips
Did you know that there are national parks units in all 50 states? Chances are, you probably have a park or two within driving distance of your school. You can use this Find a Park Index to see all of the available parks in your state. A full list of the 63 official parks is also included in my national parks resource guide. Almost every park website has a page dedicated to teachers where you can learn more about planning a field trip for your class or school.
National Parks Virtual Field Trips
Not everyone is able to take a real field trip to a nearby park, but virtual field trips are always an option! The National Park Foundation maintains a list of parks where specific virtual opportunities are available, although you can still take a virtual tour of ANY park just by visiting their website. Students will have access to pictures, historical information about each park, things to do, and more. These national parks flip books and graphic organizers (also available in digital) make excellent resources to help students focus on specific information about each park as they take their virtual tour.
National Parks Books
There are so many fun books you can incorporate into a national parks lesson or unit that I don’t have room to list them all here. But a more thorough list is available in my resource guide! Whether you’re looking for a picture book to use as a read aloud, a nonfiction book for research, a collection of national parks activities, or just a fun addition for your classroom library, there are a ton of options! There is also a book called America’s Largest Classrooms that offers suggestions for teachers to meaningfully incorporate national parks activities into existing curricula.
Junior Ranger Activities
Each national park unit offers a Junior Ranger Program where kids ages 5 through 13 can complete activities in order to earn a junior ranger badge and certificate. Although most of the activities are meant to be completed in person, many parks now offer activity books that can be accessed and completed online due to the coronavirus pandemic. Just search for the name of the park you’re interested in plus junior ranger and you’ll be able to find any online resources they offer. If the park website doesn’t have a digital copy of the junior ranger book, I’ve had success with emailing the park and requesting one as a teacher. There are also some junior ranger books with general themes like stargazing, archaeology, paleontology, underwater worlds, and other topics that aren’t specific to one park.
How are you bringing the national parks into YOUR classroom? I’d love to hear about any lessons or resources you have to share in the comments below!